12 Budapest Restaurants With Top Modern Hungarian Food

The past two decades have brought welcome improvements to Budapest restaurants — slimmer menus, inventive recipes, and healthier ingredients are gradually replacing the gut-busting fare of the communist era (still, there's a way to go). Note that many of the below places offer a weekday lunch prix fixe for a fraction of the regular prices. If you're curious about traditional Hungarian dishes, try these restaurants, too.

#1 Fricska Gastropub

Following stints at well-known Budapest restaurants, two young chefs, Andor Giczi and Szabolcs Nagy, struck out on their own, opening Fricska in 2014. The place has since earned a reputation for reliable and tasty dishes, drawing a well-off office crowd from near and far to its buzzing below-ground premises in Budapest's party district.

#2 Csalogány 26 Restaurant

In the early aughts, chef Balázs Pethő was one of the people who pioneered Hungary's food revolution at a time when comically backward communist-era practices still reigned supreme in many Budapest kitchens. A whole crop of younger cooks, many of them established head chefs now, cut their teeth under Pethő's tutelage. The family-owned Csalogány 26 is Pethő's long-standing fine dining restaurant, located on the ground floor of a Buda residential building near the Danube.

#3 Olimpia Restaurant

You'll need to trek out to the outer part of District 7, a working class Budapest neighborhood, to experience the elaborate food prepared by chefs Ádám Csaba and Donát Mogyorósi at Olimpia Restaurant. Instead of a fixed menu, Olimpia uses a blackboard to present the daily-changing dishes, which vary based on seasonal ingredients. The result? Absolutely superb, especially for the prices.

#4 A Séf utcája

In 2014, Lajos Bíró, a Hungarian celebrity chef, opened a fast casual lunch eatery inside the practically empty Hold Street Market. Fast forward to today, this historic downtown market has since transformed into a thriving food court where prominent local chefs operate low-key restaurants and the area swarms with people at lunchtime.

#5 HILDA

HILDA is a chic downtown restaurant lining the increasingly fashionable Nádor Street, an area that has come to life as a growing number of tourists and international students from the nearby Central European University pass through. HILDA boasts curb appeal and an Instagrammable interior, featuring an oversized stained glass mosaic that covers one of the walls in its entirety and glazed Zsolnay ceramic tiles, the same brand that decorates the lobby of the Four Seasons around the corner from here.

#6 Könyvbar & Restaurant

Könyvbár is an upscale restaurant within Budapest's Jewish Quarter. Head chef Zoltán Decreceni brings a Michelin experience to this snug, book-lined space, which has become a tourist favorite following praise from the New York Times. The food here doesn't easily fit into any mold: there are both Hungarian classics (goulash soup) and international foods (risotto with scallops) on the slim menu, which changes seasonally. What unites these beautifully plated dishes is how good they are. Take the fogas, once Hungary's prized fish, arriving on a bed of creamy cauliflower and ringed by crunchy and colorful slices of the vegetable.

#7 Bobo Restaurant

Curious about the top restaurants on the less traveled side of the Danube? Visit Bobo in Rózsadomb, an exclusive residential area but reachable within ten minutes from Pest. The restaurant's stated mission is to draw Budapest's Bobos (a term made popular David Brook's book, "Bobos in Paradise"), referring to people who harbor both bourgeois and bohemian sentiments. The restaurant is inside a beautifully refurbished 1885 estate, once the playground of the Hungarian aristocracy. The slightly formal vibes and steep price points — mains range €12-16 — put Bobo a step above Budapest's chic bistros, but it’s also more casual than hushed fine dining venues.

#8 Felix Restaurant

With panoramic views onto the Castle Hill and the Danube, the location of Felix is hard to beat. The restaurant, which serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, occupies a nicely refurbished landmark-protected building designed by Miklós Ybl, the head architect of the Budapest Opera House. In terms of prices and ambience, Felix is a notch above the trendy spots but more casual than stiff-lipped fine dining establishments.

#9 Stand25 Bistro

When in 2017 Szabina Szulló and Tamás Széll (a European Bocuse d'Or winner and celebrity-chef in Hungary) announced they were leaving the Michelin-starred Onyx restaurant to venture out on their own, one didn’t need a business degree to predict success. The idea of Stand25 Bistro was to prove that Hungarian fare can be more than a gut-busting, high-carb, greasy affair. The restaurant's success was immediate: a well-to-do local crowd fills Stand25's tables each day.

#10 La Perle Noire

La Perle Noire is a high-end restaurant occupying the ground floor of Mamaison, a four-star hotel on a quiet section of Andrássy Avenue (peppered with residential villas and embassies, Budapest's Andrássy Avenue is often compared to the Champs-Élysées). Let's get the bad news out of the way: La Perle Noire's interior is anything but cozy — rows of dark furnishings lend a constrained formality to this oversized space. The good news? There's a green terrace overlooking Andrássy to escape the inside and offering an exclusive dining experience in the warmer months.

#11 Bock Bisztro

In 2004, Bock Bisztró was one of the first Budapest restaurants to give new meaning to Hungarian food following the decades-long decline during the communist era. Owner and executive chef Lajos Bíró showed that contemporary cooking techniques, top ingredients, and a little boldness can jolt the local favorites into the 21st century. That crunchy bits of celery root add welcome freshness to the goulash soup; that paprikash can be wonderful when enclosed in a delicate pastry crust; that a beautifully plated lecsó tastes better than one served carelessly.

#12 Paletta Budapest

Located a bit outside the city center in Budapest's District 9, Paletta is a modern restaurant emphasizing the food of Transdanubia, especially the region near Lake Balaton in western Hungary. They also draw inspiration from abroad, which is why you might find a "margherita DOP Balaton" or a "BBC cigánypecsenye" on the slim menu. Unfortunately, many of the dishes need a bit more work. Said barbecue pork (€12) was aggressively oversalted, and both the catfish soup and the "peasant tapas" appetizer seemed more exciting on the menu than on the plate.

Rankings are based on a combination of food/drink, atmosphere, service, and price. The author visits all restaurants incognito and pays for his own meals and drinks.